Friday, December 30, 2005

Wyatt Says Happy New Year!

We are off to PA for a NADAC trial. I hope to get a lot of good proofing in. I love that NADAC allows some training in the ring.

Here is a puppy picture of Wyatt. Wyatt says, "See you next year!"

Thursday, December 29, 2005


On recent listserver, someone commented that they did not think obedience was practical. To me, that's not the point. While rally, obedience may have some limited direct, practical value, obviously most of it is just made up. Look at all the rally stations. When will one use most of the stations in real life? We get attached and obsessed with our chosen sports, venues, and their rules. It is important to remember that these are just forms that help us deepen our relationship with our dogs. It could just as easier be "stupid" dog tricks or some other made up form.

Monday, December 26, 2005

The Proof Is In The Pudding

By far the hardest challenge I have had with Wyatt is proofing. I had no idea initially that what we worked on at home could be so different somewhere else. So gradually and begrudgingly, I have deliberately added proofing to my training. gradually, Wyatt is getting more used to performing in busy, loud, places where there are many dogs around.

He is a very sensitive dog and somewhat timid and fearful. He is very quick to pick up on things though precision is not his strong suit. Patriot takes much longer to learn things but will come out looking perfect on things like fronts and finishes.

The role of stress and attention became very clear to me during one of our first CD attempts. I took him out to practice at the Big E's Mallory Arena. His performance was less than 50% of what I get at home. But I could see that he was looking around and very nervous. Of course, his attention was elsewhere!

This was not as clear to me in agility where things zoom by at a much faster pace. In agility, the stress manifests as contact issues and sometimes weave entries. Lately, we are doing better but standard runs can be hard since there are 3 contacts and 1 weave entry.

I worked for a long time on reducing his stress. We tried everything: anxiety wraps, different warm up rituals, rescue remedy, DAP spray, melotonin. I just did not find that it made that much of a difference. The one thing that did seem to help was walking him around the ring and grounds so we still do that.

Then I tried working on me: breathing, rescue remedy, visualizations. That helped some.

But now I am convinced that both dog and handler bring their own stresses into the ring. There have been times where I have been completely non-stressed at a run through and Wyatt has been really pumped. This happened recently when he saw a high energy German Shepard Dog running before him. For some reason, their energy gets him excited. So I don't buy the frequently heard notion that all stress comes from the owner.

So we are working through our stresses. I manage mine (or at least try to hide it from Wyatt). I do what I can to manage his. The biggest challenge is patience through all this and accepting my nature and my dog's nature. Wyatt may always be fast to learn but slow to earn titles.

It sure is an interesting journey. Enjoy the ride...

Friday, December 23, 2005

Long View

One thing that has helped me is thinking long term. Getting away from shooting for the next trial, Q, or title but thinking about how I am training right now will help us to get to the long term goals. For us, that is the AKC utility Dog UD and CPE CATCH (Agility Champion).

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Wild Beast Within

My wife has been working hard to release the "Wild Beast Within" Patriot. We adopted Patriot at age 2. He had been kept in a show home with a lot of other dogs and had only done showing. We naively thought he would know a lot of obedience commands as a show dog but he did not even know "sit". He was well socialized though and very used to being around people and other dogs. The reason all this was needed was that Patriot was very methodical in agility and was not always making time. We did work up an interest in "the bunny" and Patriot is now a good racer and lure courser. He seems to think cars are big bunnies though.

Patriot had zero interest in toys when we first got him with the exception a show squeaker which he would pounce on once and then quit. Dawn eventually discovered that the key to play with him was running and chasing. She was worked up to an interest in toys and games. He is now just starting to retrieve toys and the dumbbell. She gets him excited and playful whenever she can. I was watching them last night in class and it was a joy to see him really working for her and running through tunnels.

It's funny how many whippets, who are the fastest dog under 200 yards, are slow and methodical in agility. A lot of whippet trainers rely on food and I wonder if play could be used more with whippets.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Wild Or Domestic?

This entry is a little off the subject of dog training but...

I used to spend a lot of time following animal tracks and sign around the woods. When I was hot and heavy into it and doing an apprenticeship with Paul Rezendes, a lot of the hard core tracking folks looked down on domestic animals. Indeed, studying their tracks and scat, the domestic dogs would wander all over the place and leave stinky scat. The fox and coyotes generally traveled in very straight lines and left pleasant smelling scat full of interesting bones and things. One of the ways to tell domestic and wild canines apart was the fact that domestic dogs indirect register and wild canines direct register. That means that the fox and coyotes leave only one print for every 2 paws in the pattern. The rear, as I recall, generally comes down in the front track later in the pattern (depending on the gait). With domestic dogs, the tracks overlap.

The point of all this? I am reading a book about conformation and seeing structure and gaits. I had a vision of conformation judges evaluate fox and coyotes. What would they think?

There was a definite beauty in the straight and purposeful wild canine tracks compared to the domestic dog tracks. The trail width itself was very small (a few inches). What would the tracks look like when a dog runs agility?

I look at my current interest in dog training an extension of what I learned. I learned all about wild animals. Now I am learning how to form a partnership with an animal.

Of course, whether Wyatt is wild or domestic is sometimes in question.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Agility and Obedience

In the Utility Directed Jumping exercise, the handler sends the dog straight out between two jumps. The dog turns and sits and then takes one of two jumps depending on the arm signal of the handler. Wyatt can already go out to a target way ahead of me. I taught him this command for agility. So I built a little box of boards around the target, sent him out, and then told him to sit. He sat right in the box facing me the first time! This is another case of where agility is really helping us with our obedience and vice versa. How else?

Staying at the start line in agility - group stays in obedience
Broad jump - both agility and obedience
Directed jumping - a no brainer for Wyatt, he jumps over the indicated jumps easily
Rally send over jump, handler runs by - very similar to agility

So there are lots of positive cross-training aspects of agility and obedience. Here's one that was initially a confusion.

When I first went to our obedience class, I wanted to proof the broad jump which I had just trained Wyatt to do. I got out the equipment. Their board jumps are much more solid than mine. We use plastic ones with holes in them. I started with the complete exercise (my mistake). Wyatt walked onto the jump and did a 2 on, 2 off agility contact on the last broad jump!

I did back up and ran with him and he quickly got the idea.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Targeting: Is it Luring or Shaping?

I tried something new with healing. Wyatt knows a "touch" command for a target (plastic yogurt cap or my hand). So while healing I put my hand down and asked for a touch. He quickly picked up that touching my hand with his nose while heeling earned him a click and treat. I healed around the basement fast and he worked to keep up and earn treats. I also did some circles with him of the outside to try and reduce lagging on figure 8's and right turns. I liked that he was working it out himself that keeping up earned treats. I don't think it will really help him understand heal position until I fade the target. So was I luring or shaping or both?

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Leather and Metal (It's not what you think)

I was able to get Wyatt to retrieve a metal dumbbell. [These are used in the utility level of competitive obedience for scent discrimination where the dog finds the dumbbell with the handler's scent on it.] At first, he would go over and touch it with his nose and look up for a treat. It looked like he thought it was a target rather than a retrieve item. I wrapped a little vet wrap around the shaft and asked him to "Take" from my hand like we sometimes do with the plastic dumbbell and he went for it. He then retrieved it over the jump just like the plastic dumbbell. He does the leather dumbbell fine but tends to play/chew it more.

Since he likes jumping so much, I practice a lot with the jump. My strategy has been to do some fun retrieves over the jump with the plastic dumbbell and quickly switch the leather or metal items. That seems to be working. At first he was going over the dog couch to chew on his leather treat but he seems to be getting the idea that I am looking for the same behavior as the plastic.

I suppose a more traditional approach with the metal would have been to do a forced retrieve with an ear pinch! He is so sensitive, that probably would have been the end of retrieving. I accidentally stepped on his toe once while tugging and he would not tug with me for 6 months!

I guess it looks nice to not mouth or chew or pounce on retrieve items but they are dogs after all! That is not my favorite rule in traditional obedience.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Luring Versus Shaping

I recently attended a dog focused seminar at a educational technology conference, of all places!

It was by Diane Lewis, who compared methods of dog training with methods of training students. She compared traditional (forced) techniques, luring, and shaping. Until she mentioned it, I had not been looking at luring as not as good as shaping. In children, she compared luring to just looking for the students to regurgitate the right answer and shaping as constructivist techniques where students learn by doing, exploring, and making mistakes. As a teacher and a fledgling dog trainer, it made alot sense to me.

Many teachers view constructivism as good BUT too time consuming. She did some experiments with both her students and dogs (which she showed using video) that showed that, in fact, a constructivist (or shaping) approach was actually much faster when the students (dogs) are used to the technique. They jump right in and start trying things as they converge on the solution.

I realized that I used luring an awful lot so I have trying to use more shaping in places where I might be currently luring.

Click on Comments to add your thoughts.

Friday, December 16, 2005


We went to our weekly obedience class night and had a great night. I used lots of treats and tried to keep it fun, fun, fun. Gradually, we seem to be improving our heel position and front position to be more straight. He came in nicely on his two recalls though he still has a tendency to want to go right to the finish in class only. Group sits were great and I went out of sight for the down briefly. The reason I stopped competing for our CD was because he was going down on his sits in class and at trials. We put cones around him and it seemed to cure it over time. He was afraid of the cones initially. I am feeling good about finishing our CD. I think it was actually good to wait because everything else should be better too. I'd rather go in with a 90% chance than a 30% chance. Of course, you never know what can happen. Expect nothing.

I was watching and talking to a well known competitor and instructor who has awesome heel position. She and the dog look at each other the whole time. Her dog never gets out of heel position. I used to look down but found myself turning my shoulders and increasing the lagging. Now I am wondering if I should work on looking but keeping my shoulders square at the same time. When I keep his attention last night, his heeling was great. Do sighthounds want to look around more than other breeds?

Attention is the key to Zen and other forms of meditation. What would it be like to have this quality of attention with your dog? It is clear that when thinking or feeling take over, you are in trouble, An example of thinking would be expecting your dog to be doing better or thinking too much about your list of things to work on and forgetting your dog. Feeling might be fear of not qualifying. Thinking and feeling feed of each other. This can create quite a negative spiral in the ring. Most of us have been there.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Wyatt Does Not Understand Heel Position

Even though we can heel pretty well, I realized that Wyatt does not understand heel position. If he did, he could be out of position (forward, back, too close, or too far) and be able to get back into heel position. All he do now is too come up to heel position and sit if he is behind me. I need to teach the 4 power steering commands: come up, come back, move in, and move out.

Dog Training Is Not About Training Dogs

WHAT!!! Seems stupid. What else could dog training be about?

I suppose the easy answer is that is about training humans but that seems too simplistic too.

Wyatt's Scent Articles Arrive

A complete set of leather and metal scent articles arrived yesterday. I have been anxiously awaiting them since Thanksgiving. Of course, I was hoping that he would immediately retrieve them just like his plastic dumbbell.

He went right after the leather dumbbell. However, he seemed to consider it a toy and took it over to the dog couch for some playing. I was able to get him to bring it to me after a couple tries. However, he mouths it more than the hard plastic dumbbell. This supports my theory that mouthing for Wyatt is about play. For years, we have played fetch and have used squeaky toys. I wonder if some of the mouthing is trying to make the toy squeak. He only mouths the plastic dumbbell after he sits in front of me. Do hard core obedience people not use squeaky toys?

The metal dumbbell was different. He seemed to view it more as a target of some kind. He clearly expected a treat for just touching it with his nose. Maybe I should start with the leather dumbbell first.

This utility stuff is going to take a while...

What Next, Dad?

Here's Wyatt coming out a chute. His ears don't always stand up like that!

Remember to Breathe

I recently read Willard Bailey's "Remember to Breathe", a fantastic book where he shares his experience training his golden retriever Honeybear to an OTCH (AKC obedience championship). It reminded me to keep training fun. It's so easy to get focused on my list of things we are working on and kind of forget about the dog. Even though we use positive training methods, I need to remember to keep it fun (especially obedience as opposed to agility) for Wyatt. So I have been running to the start of a new exercise, mixing in some play, and not requiring a complete front and finish on every retrieve.